We may as well face facts: a lot of people who visit the UK for the first time do so with history in mind. It’s one of the most fascinating places in the world from an historical perspective, having been a home to ancient tribes, Roman rulers, conquering armies, and one of the most intricate, consequential lines of monarchs imaginable. It’s hard to visit the UK and not want to take in some history, whether that means touring the ancient Roman bath houses in the town of Bath, admiring burial sites in Westminster Abbey, or visiting castles. Among all of the real history of the UK, however, there’s also a legend that lingers in the minds of many visitors: that of King Arthur and his knights.
Just for fun, here’s a little guide of places to see in the UK if you happen to be a King Arthur fan.
Glastonbury Abbey – Somerset, England
If you’re looking to explore the UK with an eye toward Arthurian legend, you might as well start with one of the places that most interests Arthur believers. Glastonbury Abbey in the Somerset area (not too far from where the famous Glastonbury music festival is held) is said to have been the final resting place for King Arthur, or whatever figure inspired the legend. And there are some who believe that the ancient king’s tomb was actually discovered and done away with before its existence could be proven or refuted.
The historian Gerard of Wales recorded events surrounding this tomb, which involve King Henry II directing excavation efforts in the 12th century. Gerald’s writings are considered to be reasonably trustworthy, and while there are some historical circumstances that indicate the find could have been, essentially, designed, it’s also still difficult to fully refute that Arthur’s grave was found at Glastonbury Abbey.
Roman Fort – Caerleon, Wales
Camelot has been depicted many different ways over the years. In some films it is a glittering picture of the ideal medieval land, clean, colorful, bright and good. In others, such as the most recent Arthur film (which came out in 2017) it is a more powerful and foreboding castle. One game called Forsaken Kingdom: The Path of Valor describes the land as being festooned with grey skies, castles, magicians, dangerous dark knights, and more. The most realistic historical interpretation of Camelot, however, is perhaps most like that of the 2004 King Arthur movie: a humble Roman outpost, used by a figure named Artorius who may in fact be the closest thing to a real King Arthur that ever lived.
If we’re to go by this version of Camelot, the Roman fort at Caerleon, Wales is actually fairly compelling as a true Arthurian destination. Ruins of a fortress and amphitheater in the modern town of Caerleon are still easy to see and visit today, and they line up historically with some of the movements of Artorius, such that you can allow yourself to believe this really is ancient Camelot.
Tintagel Castle – Tintagel, England
This destination is a little bit more straightforward. It is an ancient seaside fortress at the far southwestern corner of England, said to have been built in the 12th century. Welshman Geoffrey of Monmouth, who is responsible for much of what we now consider to be Arthurian legend, wrote that the castle was in fact the location for both the conception and birth of Arthur. This doesn’t at first add up on the historical timeline, but it’s worth keeping in mind that there were numerous fortifications at this location before Tintagel as we now know it was built. Whatever the case, it’s a beautiful ruin to visit anyway!
Great Hall Of Winchester – Hampshire, England
When you think about it, Arthurian legend is actually fairly packed with items. There’s the sword Excalibur for one thing, and depending on which version of the legend you’re buying into, the Sword in the Stone may be a whole separate weapon. There’s the king’s crown, of course, as well as the Holy Grail which he sought in everything from ancient texts to the iconic spoof Monty Python And The Holy Grail. Perhaps the most significant thing of all, however, is the round table itself – not just the place where Arthur met with his knights, but the place where he established equality among them.
The table that hangs at the Great Hall of Winchester has been proven to be an imitation, and not the real thing, so this isn’t directly related to King Arthur. However, it is a fascinating piece of history in and of itself, as it was supposedly commissioned by King Henry VIII, perhaps the most famous of British kings. It may even indicate that the king himself believed in Arthur.
Cadbury Castle – Somerset, England
Cadbury Castle is a beautiful place to visit, essentially an ancient site in the hills of Somerset. It also may be the most compelling possible Camelot location aside from Caerleon. It has been confirmed that a castle at this location was once run (and in fact strengthened) by a warring, 6th century king named Arthur. What’s interesting about this idea is that it actually involves a different Arthur figure than many other tales, opting for a warrior king before the time of Roman rule on the Isles. Nevertheless, it’s quite clear that significant improvements were made to the ancient castle around the time that an Arthur ruled in the area.